Vaccine rollout ‘abysmal’, says pharmacy leader

Only eight out of more than 800 pharmacies have been activated to vaccinate for COVID-19 in Victoria, but union applauds pharmacist deployment to mass vaccination hubs

The president of the Pharmacy Guild’s Victorian branch has criticised the COVID-19 vaccination rollout in community pharmacies, saying it “hasn’t achieved a pass mark”.

Eight community pharmacies in regional Victoria have been invited to commence administration of the COVID-19 vaccine after request by the Victorian Department of Health to the Commonwealth, Anthony Tassone told AJP.

This is despite 816 pharmacies in Victoria being deemed suitable by the Commonwealth expression of interest process earlier this year.

A further seven outer suburban locations have been identified by the Victorian Department of Health as “areas of need”, and the Commonwealth has been requested to activate these locations.

However this is still under consideration, said Mr Tassone.    

“Whatever way you look at it, this vaccine stroll out hasn’t achieved a pass mark and 8 out of 800 pharmacies activated is an abysmal indictment on overlooking a ready, willing and capable workforce and critical primary healthcare infrastructure that is ready to take the field and help the team win,” he told AJP.

“There has been plenty of coverage of ‘vaccine hesitancy’, but we are well into the territory of ‘vaccine frustration’ – patients wanting to receive the vaccine but can’t due to stock limitations or not being able to conveniently access an administration point.

“Other developed countries that had a swift roll out of the vaccine despite surging COVID-19 case numbers like the UK and the United States utilised the community pharmacy network to help with the heavy lifting,” said Mr Tassone.

“Instead in Australia, community pharmacy is left to feel like we’re doing the hokey pokey – we’re in, we’re out, we’re in…

“Well, it really is time to turn around and get the almost 4,000 pharmacies across Australia deemed suitable activated ready to receive the incoming shipments of mRNA vaccine stock to help get Australia vaccinated and protected.”

Meanwhile Professional Pharmacists Australia welcomed the activation of Victorian pharmacists in mass vaccination hubs after the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services issued a call out to pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and interns to participate in the COVID-19 vaccination rollout.

The organisation said it has been working closely with the Victorian Government to get more pharmacists on the ground to deliver COVID-19 vaccines in settings across the state, including in regional and rural areas.

“With recent outbreaks of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus striking our cities and triggering costly lockdowns to protect community health, it’s absolutely vital that we use all of the resources at our disposal, and that includes our highly skilled pharmacists who are now being deployed to the Victorian Government’s large vaccination centres,” said PPA president Dr Geoff March.

“We have long advocated that community pharmacy be integrated into the health system and not be seen or treated in isolation, for example, in establishing the opportunity for pharmacists to work alongside medical practitioners in doctor surgeries.

“It’s absolutely fantastic to see pharmacists assist in delivering COVID-19 vaccines at Victoria’s mass vaccination hubs.

“We encourage pharmacists to use their skills to help more Victorians get the COVID-19 vaccination and to continue to push for recognition of their full skill set and role as health professionals.”

Dr March told AJP that PPA supported the position adopted by National Cabinet that States and Territories have ability to choose to incorporate community pharmacies into their roll-out plans in rural and remote areas where there are no or limited other points of presence.

“While we support community pharmacies being involved in delivering immunisations, this must be done in line with workplace health and safety requirements and not subject working pharmacists to even higher workloads and pressure,” he said.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has been approached for comment.

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